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Published: September 16th 2008
Istanbul has been named Augusta Antonina and Constantinople, and nicknamed the Paris of the East during the glory days of the Ottoman Empire. Today, I witness a metropolis still reflecting the beauty of the past with added touches of today, as it continues to modernize.
I started the second day very early in the morning, while most were still asleep. That’s a wonderful time to wander the quiet streets of any place and get a glimpse of its world without vendors, visitors, traffic. A few locals were starting the day pass by me: kids going to school, old ladies opening windows, cats stretching on top of walls. I window-shopped, admiring the beautiful Turkish carpets, ceramic, hats, and souveniers, without being pushed to buy anything.
By 7:30am I thought of visiting the Blue Mosque before the morning prayer and the crowds. It was still closed, so I sat on the bench to read. Only a guard and 2 Muslim men washing themselves, as part of the ritual before prayer inside a mosque. Than, right before 8, a multitude of tourist groups stated to arrive, all at once. See picture, or you won’t comprehend my shock, as hundreds arrived. Needless
Super strong shot of caffeine, but delicious
to say, I turned around and headed back to the hotel for breakfast, determined to visit the Mosque at the end of the day.
We took a 2 hour boat tour on the Bosphorus, the water straight linking the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea and separating the continents of Asia and Europe. The views of palaces, mosques, forts, and the 3 bridges were very nice. Old and new buildings on the hills of both sides mark the landscape.
Wandering around the huge Main Bazaar was nice and colorful but since we are not much into shoppeing, only just curious about the locals, we ventured into the narrow streets around the market until we’re hungry for lunch.
The Lonely Planet highly recommends eating at the …….. inside the market, so we gave it a try. Advise: DO NOT eat there. Very expensive and not worth the money at all. Eating from a street vendor or a small restaurant is a much wiser and tastier choice.
Heading to the Spice Market was in order. Joyful, with aromatic spices and innumerous tasty sweets to be tried. Definitely not to be missed and a better shopping experience than the
Bazaar. Again, after being under the beautiful covered market for a while, we chose to get lost on the many alley ways where the locals shop, eat, work. Getting hungry again, we savored deliciously sweet Turkish Delights and a freshly made pide (Turkish pizza without tomato sauce) seating on a curb. It's easy to get hungry here with so many delicious food tempting us everywhere.
The weather couldn’t be better: the sky is super blue, it’s hot but there is a cool breeze from the Sea of Marmara. So, we go non-stop from place to place in delight, taking in all the beauty of Istanbul. The many Ottoman stone buildings and mosques, with their architecture influenced by the Byzantine, create a truly stunning scenery all around the city.
We’re happily surprised to find the city to be so safe and clean. We feel at ease anywhere, even at back alleys, even though locals tell us to be careful.
The array of colorful headscarves worn by Muslin women, young and old, is fascinating. Interesting to find out that wearing a headscarf is still a hot topic of national-political controversy, as the secular law still forbids women from wearing them
Fruit, honey & nuts combined to a gustatory delight
if working in government buildings, including schools! And that’s in a country where 98% of the population is Muslim!!!
Third Day in Istanbul:
I have been admiring the impressive and massive Blue Mosque and Aya Sophia from the streets. Now was time to see the wonders from within.
Aya Sophia (Sancta Sophia) was built as a church to restore the greatness of the Roman Empire in 527, was converted to a mosque in 1453 and than to a museum in 1935. That was great, as religion no longer defines one the world’s most magnificent buildings. Pictures don’t do it justice, as the dome and the mosaic designs in the ceiling are too high.
The center of SOTANAHMET (old town) was incredible for people watching from 5pm to way after midnight. Tourists become a tiny minority mingling thru the Turksish Muslims who come to pray at the mosques and than break the Ramazan fast around the area.
The food in the many stalls attract many hungry locals, and us, with the delicious smell in the air. We sat on the tiny table and enjoyed a pleasant meal, even with the language barrier inverting my order radically: water turned into
a liquid salty yogurt; cheese gozmele came with minced meat; and when I said I wasn’t done yet, the waiter tried to take my food away.
Well, not many people speak English around here, but that’s ok. The alphabet is not hard to read, although understanding the meaning of the words is something else!
We leave Istanbul delighted by memories of a great time spent in a stunning metropolis, heading to Izmir.
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